This is one of the latest responses to The Real Jesus series.
Sent: April 22, 2007
Subject: The Real Jesus
I would first like to say you’ve done a great job on the Real Jesus documentary, nice directing. I personally don’t believe in the God from the Bible so much, I am more spiritual. I have three simple questions that I would find very interesting to be answered by you. I really hope you won’t ignore this but reply to me as I am not a hater or anything like that.
1. Before Jesus, before people knew right from wrong, what would happen to them? Would they go to hell or heaven? Also what of other parts of the world where Jesus was unknown and still is? Would they suffer for something they don’t know?
2. How could, God in all conscious, knowing and seeing the past, present and future, condemn someone to eternal damnation or salvation? I.e. God puts a person into a ghetto for example, knowing that this person would be involved into crime, and punish him for it, even though the person might have not even heard of the Bible.
3. Why is it, if Jesus was so great, that only six to eight people wrote about him? I am referring to the Bible.
It would be great to hear what your answers are, I’m merely trying to get people to be open minded and think for themselves rather than accepting a piece of writing that could very well be propaganda of some kind.
Thank you for the compliment and for your questions. This is why I produced this Real Jesus series in the first place — to answer questions and objections held by biblical skeptics. I am already planning on doing several follow-up projects based on some of the comments and questions I’ve been receiving.
1. Your first question is both simple and complicated. It is similar to the proverbial “What about all those tribal people in Africa” question.
All Christians have either heard or thought about that question at one point. Other people have done a better job at answering the question, but I will give it a try here.
The simple answer to your question is that no one is going to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus. The Bible teaches that each person will be judged by his or her own works and that each person will give an account. The Bible also teaches that God is a just judge.
The complicated answer is that it is precisely because God is a just judge that we ought to be worried. Any person who is honest with himself will tell you that scripture is correct when it says in several places, “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” But we ought to rejoice that God is also an all loving and merciful Father. God has provided a payment for our sins in the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ — both in His perfect life and His death on a cross.
Jesus himself preached: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” This is what Jesus said. It is an exclusive statement and not a concoction of modern evangelists.
In regard to your question about how people are judged who have never had a chance to hear about Jesus, I simply reply that they will be judged by their works.
So while no one is going to hell for not hearing the Gospel, one thing is clear. You have now heard the Gospel. The real question is: What are you going to do about that? A good start would be to read the words of Jesus in scripture and take His claims seriously.
*2. Your second question is related to the first one. How could a loving God condemn someone to an eternal hell? *
I ought to begin by asking another question. Is there anyone who deserves to go to hell or simply does not deserve to be rewarded by an eternity in heaven?
If your answer is yes, then you are really answering your own question. Since the all loving God is also a just judge, He alone can make the determination on who deserves to go to hell.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the “special cases” because I don’t think that there is enough information given in scripture to lead us to a sound conclusion. While some have attempted to construct a theology of a “natural salvation” for such people who have never heard the Gospel from the idea of “natural revelation” that is mentioned by Paul in Romans chapter 1, I think that there are many things regarding eternity that are not answered by scripture.
See Deuteronomy 29:29. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
I simply trust that if God is real, then His judgments are righteous and true.
*3. You would be correct in numbering the authors of the New Testament as eight or nine depending on who you think wrote Hebrews. *
These would be Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Jude, Peter and Paul. These are exactly the people who we would expect to have the authority to write about Jesus.
Three of the Twelve Apostles wrote books, Matthew, John, and Peter.
Paul is a special case in that he was the last of the Apostles called by Jesus “out of due time” in the New Testament.
John Mark is thought to be the interpreter and scribe of Peter.
Luke is known for his close relationship with Paul and also with John and Mary the mother of Jesus.
James and Jude are the half-brothers or family members of Jesus.
One way of looking at the limited number of books in The New Testament is that compared to the Old Testament, there is a good representation of authors to account for events occurring over a much shorter period of time.
Five of the eight writers, Matthew, John, Peter, James, Jude (and possibly also John Mark) were eyewitnesses to Jesus life and ministry. The other three — Paul, Mark and Luke — were chosen because of their training in theology and writing skills.
One thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that less than one-third of the ancient world was literate. The Jews had a much higher literacy rate than the Gentile Greeks and Romans. However, fewer could also write. That may sound odd to us today, but in those days, writing materials were expensive and the vocation of a scribe was a profession that required specific training in addition to literacy.
Most of the Apostles had Christian scribes to write their accounts and letters. Paul had Timothy and at least a few others as a scribe. The church fathers, Papias and Irenaeus, tell us that John Mark was Peter’s scribe. Thus the Gospel of Mark can be thought of as Peter’s Gospel.
So essentially, all the books of the New Testament were written by Apostles of Jesus or family members. The two exceptions to this rule were Matthew and Luke, who were chosen to write their Gospels due to their training. As a tax collector and a physician, they had received training in writing.
If a famous teacher were to have an accurate biography written about his life, he might choose the following people to undertake the project: three associates who knew him intimately —Peter, John and Matthew —- two professional writers with educational credentials to investigate the basic facts and specific details that the other three might have overlooked — Mark and Luke. Add to this an expert in the teacher’s field — Paul. Then he might rely on the accounts of two family members — James and Jude — to round out the account of the teacher’s life and teachings.
These are the only accounts that were recognized as authoritative by the men known as the Church Fathers, who lived after the era of the Apostles from 70 to 200 A.D. There are a few mentions of “lost” writings by several of the Church Fathers, such as the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord by Papias. Most likely if these other accounts actually existed in the first century, they did not come down to us because these authors lacked the same authority as the eight who wrote the New Testament.